Sensation Hunters (1945)

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The price of rebellion!
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vt Club Paradise
US / 62 minutes / bw / Monogram, Associated Artists Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Joseph Kaufman Scr: Dennis Cooper Story: John Faxon Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay, Nestor Paiva, Byron Foulger, Vince Barnett, Minerva Urecal, Janet Shaw, Maurice Murphy, Billy Nelson, John Hamilton, The Rubenettes, The Johnson Brothers.

Every now and then Poverty Row studio Monogram got it just right and produced a splendid minor noir, and this was one of those times. Despite the coincidence of title, it bears no relation to the earlier Sensation Hunters (1933) dir Charles Vidor, with Arline Judge, Marion Burns and Preston Foster, a far inferior movie that I plan to cover here next week.

In the opening moments we see a man arrive at a darkened frontage and ring the doorbell. A negligée-clad woman appears at a balcony overhead, and summons him upstairs. Moments later, three shots ring out . . .

The rest of the movie is one long flashback leading us up to this scene. We’re soon pretty sure who the woman was (will be?), but who was the man? And who shot whom? And why? Continue reading

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Repeat Performance (1947)

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Can we change the past by reliving it?
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US / 92 minutes / bw / Bryan Foy Productions, Eagle–Lion Dir: Alfred Werker Pr: Aubrey Schenck Scr: Walter Bullock Story: Repeat Performance (1942) by William O’Farrell Cine: Lew W. O’Connell Cast: Louis Hayward, Joan Leslie, Virginia Field, Tom Conway, Richard Basehart, Natalie Schafer, Benay Venuta, Ilka Gruning.

Every now and then one comes across a movie that ought to have the status of at the very least a minor classic yet has somehow been largely forgotten. Repeat Performance is such a movie. It tells a highly intriguing, emotionally involving story and, in so doing, hardly puts a foot wrong.

It’s a few minutes before the start of 1947 and the streets of New York are full of merry celebrants. In her luxury apartment nearby, however, famous Broadway actress Sheila Page (Leslie) stands over the corpse of husband Barney (Hayward); in her hand is the gun with which she’s just shot him. What could have brought her to this pass?

There’s a thunder of fists on the apartment door and a chorus of shouts from beyond it. Casting the gun aside, Sheila flees—out into the streets and to a club where her friend, the poet William Williams (Basehart, whose first screen role this was) is drinking with actress Bess Michaels (Venuta) and English playwright Paula Costello (Field). Sheila tells the sympathetic William what she’s done, and he suggests they go ask the advice of Broadway producer John Friday (Conway), a kind and generous man who’s an angel in more senses than one . . . especially to Sheila, whom he clearly adores from, figuratively speaking at least, afar.

Paula (Virginia Field) tries to pretend she and Sheila are all pals together.

However, as Sheila and William approach the door of Friday’s apartment, she wishes aloud that 1946 had never happened at all, that she could relive it avoiding all the pitfalls that made it such a rotten year for her—and, in fact, for William. She turns on the stairs to discover that William is no longer with her.

And, speaking moments later with a bewildered Friday, she slowly begins to cotton on to the fact that the new year that’s just beginning isn’t 1947 after all: it’s 1946. Just as she wished for, she’s been given the chance to relive the year.

John Friday (Tom Conway) is bewildered by Sheila’s claims that it’s 1947.

What errors will she avoid making? For one, she’ll Continue reading

A Woman’s Vengeance (1948)

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Beware of stormy weather!
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US / 96 minutes / bw / Universal–International Dir & Pr: Zoltan Korda Scr: Aldous Huxley Story: “The Gioconda Smile” (1921 in Mortal Coils) by Aldous Huxley Cine: Russell Metty Cast: Charles Boyer, Ann Blyth, Jessica Tandy, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Mildred Natwick, Cecil Humphreys, Hugh French, Rachel Kempson, Valerie Cardew, Carl Harbord, John Williams, Leland Hodgson, Ola Lorraine, Harry Cording.

Perhaps surprisingly, bearing in mind the authorship of its screenplay—and bearing in mind its dialogue’s predilection for wandering off into little philosophical digressions—this is a movie where it’s probably best to leave one’s brain at the door. Experienced in the moment, so to speak, it’s hugely impressive, with some sterling performances, dramatic visuals and moments of great emotional power, all underscored (if you’ll pardon the pun) by a typically tidal orchestral soundtrack by Miklos Rosza. Yet, under the most perfunctory analysis, parts of it don’t really make sense and/or are quite clumsy.

Ann Blyth as Doris Mead.

There’s a strong suspicion at large that bon vivant and art connoisseur Henry Maurier (Boyer) married his wife Emily (Kempson) solely for her fortune. It’s a suspicion that the man’s own behavior doesn’t support, even though it appears he has a habit of pursuing other women and is currently enmeshed in a longstanding affair with Doris Mead (Blyth), a mere slip of a girl who—she’s just 18—could easily be his daughter, or even granddaughter.

Charles Boyer as Henry Maurier.

The one woman at whom he seems never to have made a pass is, perhaps surprisingly, Janet Spence (Tandy), whom Henry took under his wing when Continue reading

The Strange Mrs. Crane (1948)

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You can’t leave your past behind!
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vt Beyond Reasonable Doubt; vt Guilty Woman
US / 62 minutes / bw / John Sutherland Productions, Pathe, Eagle–Lion Dir: Sherman Scott (i.e., Sam Newfield) Pr: John Sutherland Scr: Al Martin Story: Frank Burt, Robert Libott Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Marjorie Lord, Robert Shayne, Pierre Watkin, James Seay, Ruthe Brady, Claire Whitney, Mary Gordon, Chester Clute, Dorothy Granger, Charles Williams, Emmett Vogan.

A cracker of a minor film noir that seems to have passed under just about everybody’s radar—mine included, until now.

Jenny Hadley (Lord) used to be in partnership with Floyd Durant (Shayne) in a blackmailing racket: she’d get into compromising positions with married men (like Comstock in Chicago who “fell so hard for her he wouldn’t even go to the police”) while Floyd did the rest. As you’d expect, it wasn’t just in their extortioning game that Jenny and Floyd were partnered.

Marjorie Lord as the very respectable Mrs. Crane . . . but in reality
a femme fatale.

Now, though, Jenny has left her life of crime—and Floyd—behind, and has become ultra-respectable Mrs. Gina Crane, wife of the much older lawyer Clinton Crane (Watkin), who’s the pundits’ favorite to triumph in the upcoming state gubernatorial race.

When Clinton wins his primary, Gina (as we’ll call her for convenience) reminds him of his promise to Continue reading

Common Law Wife (1963)

US / 76 minutes / bw / Texas Film Producers, Cinema Distributors of America Dir: Eric Sayers, Larry Buchanan (uncredited) Pr: Fred A. Kadane Scr: Grace Nolen Cast: Anne MacAdams (i.e., Annabelle Weenick), George Edgely, Max Anderson, Lacey Kelly, Bert Masters, Libby Booth, Norman Smith, Dale Berry.

Sometime in the early 1960s, schlockmeister Larry Buchanan got halfway through an exploitation movie called Swamp Rose when, for one reason or another (perhaps someone spent the project’s budget on a busfare), he had to abandon it. A while later, director Eric Sayers was hired to cobble together Buchanan’s existing footage with newly shot material and make of the result what he could. That result was the assemblage of continuity errors released as Common Law Wife.

A major problem that Sayers had was that he couldn’t obtain the services of all the same actors Buchanan had used. In most instances the resemblance is close enough that you’re not really aware of the difference. What makes the movie truly confusing, though, is that the two actresses playing the central femme fatale, Jonelle, look nothing like each other—not only that, but they don’t walk the same, they have starkly contrasting Continue reading

Rope of Sand (1949)

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Burt Lancaster battles it out with Paul Henreid in a tale of diamonds and dust!
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US / 104 minutes / bw / Wallis–Hazen, Paramount Dir: William Dieterle Pr: Hal B. Wallis Scr: Walter Doniger, John Paxton Story: Walter Doniger Cine: Charles B. Lang Jr Cast: Burt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Corinne Calvet, Sam Jaffe, John Bromfield, Mike Mazurki, Kenny Washington, Edmond Breon, Hayden Rorke, David Thursby, Josef Marais, Miranda (i.e., Miranda Marais).

rope-of-sand-closer

Welcome to Diamondstadt, headquarters of the Colonial Diamond Co. Ltd:

“This part of the desert of South Africa, where only a parched camelthorn tree relieves the endless parallels of time, space and sky, surrounds like a rope of sand the richest diamond-bearing area in the world—an uneasy land where men enflamed by monotony and the heat sometimes forget the rules of civilization.”

The place is run like a fascist state in miniature—complete with torture chamber—by its sadistic police chief, Commandant Paul G. Vogel (Henreid), and his thugs. Vogel’s primary task is to ensure that no one strays into the Prohibited Area, a region of desert where sometimes clusters of diamonds can be found mere inches beneath the surface of the sand.

rope-of-sand-1-vogel-rules-his-little-fiefdom-with-an-iron-fist

Total bastard Vogel (Paul Henreid) rules his little fiefdom with an iron fist.

It’s here that Mike Davis (Lancaster) returns after an absence of two years. Almost from the moment of his arrival it’s clear he has a bitter past in Diamondstadt . . . and a bitter past with the loathsome Vogel. When Mike refuses to be intimidated at the docks by Vogel, the police chief deliberately engineers an “accident,” so that a derrick’s worth of stuff falls—not on Mike, because that could cause problems, but glancingly on the leg of a sailor, John (Washington). Mike tends John’s wounds and sends him off to see Diamondstadt’s physician, Dr. Francis Kitteridge Hunter (Jaffe), who’s more or less permanently inebriated but remains competent.

rope-of-sand-2-as-mike-tends-the-wounds-of-john-the-two-men-become-fast-friends

As Mike (Burt Lancaster, right) tends the wounds of John (Kenny Washington), the two men become fast friends.

Vogel’s boss is a man called Martingale (Rains); he’s listed as Arthur Martingale in the closing credits but in fact called Fred throughout the movie. The two work together and on the surface are allies, but in fact there’s no love lost between them, as we witness when Martingale covertly blackballs Vogel from membership of the snooty Perseus Club in Cape Town. Also in Cape Town, Martingale is picked up by Suzanne Renaud (Calvet), supposedly the French niece of a Colonial Diamond Co. stockholder but in fact a scammer whose trick is to inveigle herself into the rooms of married men and then threaten to accuse them of sexual impropriety.

rope-of-sand-3-suzanne-casts-an-alluring-glance-martingales-way

Suzanne (Corinne Calvet) casts an alluring glance Martingale’s way.

Martingale, having been informed of Mike’s return to Diamondstadt, calls Suzanne’s bluff—aside from anything else, he isn’t married—but then offers her a job. The reason there’s bad blood between Mike and Vogel is that Continue reading

Thunder Island (1963)

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An exiled dictator, a professional hitman, and the innocents who’re caught in the middle!
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US / 65 minutes / bw / Associated Producers, Cooperative de Artes Cinematograficas, Producciones del Viejo San Juan, TCF Dir & Pr: Jack Leewood Scr: Don Devlin, Jack Nicholson Cine: John Nickolaus Jr Cast: Gene Nelson, Fay Spain, Brian Kelly, Miriam Colon, Art Bedard, Antonio Torres Martino, Esther Sandoval, José de San Antón, Evelyn Kaufman, Stephanie Rifkinson.

thunder-island-0

Vincent Dodge (Kelly) used to be a high-powered ad man on Madison Avenue but, when he couldn’t stand the rat race any longer, he left New York to start up a charter-boat service in San Miguel, Puerto Rico. Most of his customers aboard the Idelda are game fishermen, sightseers or scuba divers, but he also has a regular gig running supplies out to the private island that’s the home of exiled dictator Antonio Perez (de San Antón).

Vincent lives a sort of Travis McGee existence, in short, albeit without the babes, because he still yearns for the wife who refused to come here with him, Helen (Spain), and their nine-year-old daughter Josephine “Jo” (Kaufman).

One day Helen and Jo arrive in San Miguel unannounced. Helen has decided to try to find a reconciliation with Vincent, to see if he might be lured back to the big city and the bustling environment of their friends—or her friends, as he corrects her.

thunder-island-3-conversation-is-at-first-strained-between-vincent-and-helen

Conversation is at first strained between Vincent (Brian Kelly) and Helen (Fay Spain).

While it’s obvious they both still love each other—and can hardly keep their hands off each other—Vincent doesn’t see returning to New York as on the cards. Since they’ve tried living together in the city and that didn’t work for him, why not Continue reading

Case Against Brooklyn, The (1958)

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Darren McGavin socks jaws and blasts bullets as he exposes cops who’ve sold out to the Syndicate!

US / 81 minutes / bw / Morningside, Columbia Dir: Paul Wendkos Pr: Charles H. Schneer Scr: Raymond T. Marcus (i.e., Bernard Gordon), Daniel B. Ullman Story: “I Broke the Brooklyn Graft Scandal” (n.d. True Magazine) by Ed Reid Cine: Fred Jackman Cast: Darren McGavin, Maggie Hayes (i.e., Margaret Hayes), Warren Stevens, Peggy McCay, Tol Avery, Emile Meyer, Nestor Paiva, Brian Hutton, Robert Osterloh, Joseph Turkel, Bobby Helms, John Zaremba, Thomas Browne Henry, Joe De Santis, Michael Garth, Herb Vigran, Cheerio Meredith.

Case Against Brooklyn - 0 opener

Case Against Brooklyn - 0a other opener

Journalist Ed Reid (uncredited, but possibly played by himself) has blown the story wide open: not only is NYC full of “horse rooms” (illegal bookie joints) but the taking of bribes by the cops to look the other way is rife. His stories in the newspapers draw the attention of DA Michael W. Norris (Avery) and leading bookie Finelli (Paiva), albeit for very different reasons.

Case Against Brooklyn - 1 Finelli hands over the days takings to Rudi

Finelli (Nestor Paiva) hands over the days takings to his henchman Rudi (Warren Stevens).

Norris decides to set up a sting operation using recent graduates from the police academy, who presumably can be expected to have not yet discovered the allure of corruption. Chief among these—or, at least, the rookie whose story we follow—is Pete Harris (McGavin), a man who has some relevant experience in that he did intelligence work for the US Marines in Japan. Pete chooses as his sidekick his old academy comrade Jess Johnson (Hutton) and the pair rent an apartment that’s Continue reading

Blues in the Night (1941)

US / 88 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: Anatole Litvak Scr: Robert Rossen, Elia Kazan (uncredited) Story: Hot Nocturne (unproduced play) by Edwin Gilbert Cine: Ernie Haller Cast: Priscilla Lane, Betty Field, Richard Whorf, Lloyd Nolan, Jack Carson, Wally Ford, Elia Kazan, Peter Whitney, Billy Halop, Howard Da Silva, Joyce Compton, Herbert Heywood, George Lloyd, Charles Wilson, Matt McHugh, William Gillespie, Jimmie Lunceford and His Band, Will Osborne and His Band, Mabel Todd, Ernest Whitman, Napoleon Simpson, Dudley Dickerson.

Blues in the Night - 0 Ernest Whitman & Napoleon Simpson

Ernest Whitman and Napoleon Simpson.

Brilliant jazz pianist Jigger Pine (Whorf) and drummer Peppi (Halop) are rocking the joint at the St. Louis Cafe, egged on by their clarinetist fan and would-be band member Nickie Haroyan (Kazan). Jigger gets into a fight with an obstreperous drunk (McHugh) and the trio end up in a cell for a few hours while Nickie’s mom arranges bail. There they meet Jigger’s old bassist pal Pete Bossett (Whitney) and Jigger spells out his vision to the other three:

“You think I never thought about starting a band before? I thought about it lots of times. I’m always thinking about it. But it’s got to be our kind of music. Our kind of band. The songs we’ve heard when we’ve been knocking around this country. Blues, real blues, the kind that come out of people, real people, their hopes and their dreams, what they’ve got and what they want, the whole USA in one chorus. . . . And that band ain’t just kinda blowin’ and poundin’ and scrapin’. That’s five guys, no more, who feel, play, live, even think the same way. That ain’t a band, it’s a unit. It’s one guy multiplied five times. It’s a unit that even breathes on the same beat. It’s gonna kick on its own in a style that’s theirs and nobody else’s. It’s like a hand in a glove, five fingers, each to fit quick and slick.”

Blues in the Night - 1 Nickie calls Mom to bail them out

Nickie (Elia Kazan) calls Mom to bail out him and his pals (Whorf and Halop).

And there are quirks in the reification of this dream, at least as portrayed in this movie. The four in that jail cell form Jigger’s “unit” all right—adding trumpeter Leo Powell (Carson) and his wife, singer Ginger “Character” Powell (Lane), along the way—but Continue reading

Nightmare (1942)

US / 81 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Tim Whelan Pr & Scr: Dwight Taylor Story: Philip MacDonald Cine: George Barnes Cast: Diana Barrymore, Brian Donlevy, Henry Daniell, Eustace Wyatt, Arthur Shields, Gavin Muir, Stanley Logan, Ian Wolfe, Hans Conried, John Abbott, David Clyde, Harold de Becker, Ivan Simpson, Keith Hitchcock, Lydia Bilbrook, Pax Walker.

Nightmare 1942 - 0 opener

Gambler Dan Shane (Donlevy), homeless while waiting in London during the Blitz for the chance to take a boat home to sign up for the US armed forces, opportunistically enters the servants’ quarters of a house in Crescent Gardens that he believes to be empty, and purloins a couple of eggs for a meal.

But the house isn’t empty. Suddenly he’s confronted by the occupant, pretty young Leslie Stafford (Barrymore), who makes him a deal: if he’ll somehow remove the just-discovered body of her murdered husband, Captain Edgar Stafford (Daniell), from the house, she’ll Continue reading